Killing for a Better World (and a summary of the main arguments for and against veganism)

No one is against all killing. 

The average pro-lifer hates fetus killing, but is cool with war killing, self-defense killing and killing animals for food (as long as they aren’t of the feline or canine variety). Euthanasia supporters are fine with self-killing and assisted suicide. Meat eaters are all about killing non-human animals for their flesh. Vegans are all about the opposite of that, but tend to be okay with fetus killing and self-defense killing.

We use “justice,” “desert,” “choice,” “freedom,” “necessity,” “guilty” and “right and wrong” to lend respectability to the types of killings we defend. But strip away the moralizing terminology and all we’re saying is that certain forms of killing create a world that we like more.

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--Tagged under: Ethics--

In his latest post, Pythagorean Crank satirizes vegan utilitarianism by proposing an “ethical offset” program that meat-serving restaurants could offer their customers: an expense added to meat-based meals that would go toward animal-based charities that want to stop the slaughter that makes all that cheap fast-food meat possible. 

This may be a bit too absurd to take off, despite there being a certain logic to it. But as commenter TaVe points out, meat eaters can do this on their own by donating to Vegan Outreach after an ethically suspect meal. TaVe even calculates how much it would cost meat eaters to offset the ethical consequences of their meat eating; since Vegan Outreach claims that $1 donated to them prevents 2-358 slaughters, the answer is - not very much. And in fact, meat eaters who donate even just a little bit to Vegan Outreach may be “reducing suffering” more than non-activist vegans.

--Tagged under: Ethics--

Animal Rights Philosophers on Animal Habitat, Part Two: Joan Dunayer

Click here to skip ahead if you’ve already read this introduction from Part One

In many formulations of vegan ethics, domestication is considered an inherently exploitative arrangement. It turns animals into doting human slaves, breeding away their ability to live independently as free animals; whatever unspoken contract there is between humans and other animals is conceived of by humans and skewed in our favor. In a vegan world, domesticated animals would be treated with care, but would not necessarily be allowed to breed. Though vegan discourse now typically focuses on farm animals, a vegan world would have far fewer of them, and possibly none at all. Either way, wild animals would have to become a more prominent concern in vegan ethics than they are now. 

This poses a challenge for vegan philosophy as it is now defended. Wild animals are the weak underbelly of ethical veganism, as defensive omnivores intuit when they decry vegans for killing mice with farm equipment. Animal rights advocates say that we should not intentionally violate animals’ interests. Animals want to live, so animal rights advocates say we shouldn’t intentionally kill them. Animals don’t want to suffer, so animal rights advocates say we shouldn’t intentionally torture them or really interfere with them at all. And that’s about it.

This is supposed to be a “leave animals alone” approach: libertarianism for wildlife. The problem is that it isn’t possible to simply leave wild animals alone. We inhabit the same planet; conflicts of interest are inevitable –- especially over habitat. Wild animals have an interest in living, eating and mating, and these activities are impossible without a place to do them. Human development, then, is completely at odds with animals’ habitat interests by taking land that was or could have been animal homes and turning it to uses that are more or less human exclusive, or at least human-centric and hostile to other animals. Habitat destruction is the deadliest human activity that wild animals face.

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--Tagged under: Habitat Rights--

--Tagged under: Vegan Leaders--

--Tagged under: Ethics--

Animal Rights Philosophers on Animal Habitat, Part One: Tom Regan

In many formulations of vegan ethics, domestication is considered an inherently exploitative arrangement. It turns animals into doting human slaves, breeding away their ability to live independently as free animals; whatever unspoken contract there is between humans and other animals is conceived of by humans and skewed in our favor. In a vegan world, domesticated animals would be treated with care, but would not necessarily be allowed to breed. Though vegan discourse now typically focuses on farm animals, a vegan world would have far fewer of them, and possibly none at all. Either way, wild animals would have to become a more prominent concern in vegan ethics than they are now. 

This poses a challenge for vegan philosophy as it is now defended. Wild animals are the weak underbelly of ethical veganism, as defensive omnivores intuit when they decry vegans for killing mice with farm equipment. Animal rights advocates say that we should not intentionally violate animals’ interests. Animals want to live, so animal rights advocates say we shouldn’t intentionally kill them. Animals don’t want to suffer, so animal rights advocates say we shouldn’t intentionally torture them or really interfere with them at all. And that’s about it.

This is supposed to be a “leave animals alone” approach: libertarianism for wildlife. The problem is that it isn’t possible to simply leave wild animals alone. We inhabit the same planet; conflicts of interest are inevitable –- especially over habitat. Wild animals have an interest in living, eating and mating, and these activities are impossible without a place to do them. Human development, then, is completely at odds with animals’ habitat interests by taking land that was or could have been animal homes and turning it to uses that are more or less human exclusive, or at least human-centric and hostile to other animals. Habitat destruction is the deadliest human activity that wild animals face.

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--Tagged under: Ethics--

--Tagged under: Vegan Leaders--

--Tagged under: Habitat Rights--

Why the Survival Exemption Makes Consistent Anti-Speciesism Very Difficult

Almost all vegan philosophers say it’s okay for humans to eat other animals if their immediate survival is at stake; many also believe that it’s okay for us to eat meat if our health is at stake — though most say this almost never happens.

This gets tricky for those philosophers who want to maintain a consistently anti-speciesist stance. That’s because it is prima facie speciesist for vegans to say that the starving or unhealthy should be allowed to kill and eat other animals, but not kill and eat other humans, since that suggests that other animals’ lives are worth less than ours. On the other hand, allowing the starving and unhealthy to kill and eat healthy humans if other animals abound is a tough sell. 

So vegans who allow humans to eat flesh if their health or immediate survival depends on it, but want to maintain their claim to anti-speciesism, have two options. They can either argue that it’s not speciesist to allow the starving and unhealthy to always eat other animals before they would do the same to humans, or they can take the more consistent route and say that all sentient beings are equally fair game if you must eat sentient beings to survive or thrive.

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--Tagged under: Speciesism--

--Tagged under: Ethics--

Speciesism in Joan Dunayer’s “Speciesism”

Joan Dunayer’s Speciesism gets as close to taking a consistent anti-speciesist stance as any animal rights book I’ve read. You can see this in her critique of Tom Regan’s “lifeboat scenario”: the hypothetical he describes in The Case for Animal Rights in which we must choose between throwing a dog or a human overboard to save the remaining occupants of a sinking lifeboat. Regan says we should throw the dog over, and other animal rights philosophers usually come to similar conclusions in their own versions of this dilemma. Dunayer, however, thinks they all have it backwards:

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--Tagged under: Speciesism--

--Tagged under: Vegan Leaders--

--Tagged under: Ethics--

For Vegans, Human Health Comes Before Animal Lives

Most vegans and meat eaters agree: the lives of animals are not worth enough for us to willingly sacrifice our health for them. Vegans just don’t think that giving up animal products entails such a sacrifice.

In The Case for Animal Rights, Tom Regan writes:

There is no question that meat is a nutritious food. In particular, it is a source of complete protein, containing all the amino acids essential for human health and vitality. If it were true that these nutrients were not otherwise obtainable, then the case for eating meat, even given the rights view, would be on solid ground. If we were certain to ruin our health by being vegetarians, or run a serious risk of doing so…and given that the deterioration of our health would deprive us of a greater variety and number of opportunities for satisfaction than those within the range of farm animals, then we would be making ourselves, not the animals, worse-off if we became vegetarians. Thus might we appeal to the liberty principle as a basis for eating meat, assuming the other provisos of that principle were satisfied.

To concede the necessity of meat in a healthy diet is to concede more than is meat’s due. The essential amino acids are essential, that is true; but there are alternative ways to obtain them, ways that do not rely on meat. … Certain amino acids are essential for our health. Meat isn’t. We cannot, therefore, defend meat-eating on the grounds that we will ruin our health if we don’t eat it, or even that we will run a very serious risk of doing so if we abstain. Any “risk” we run can be easily overcome by taking the modest trouble required to do so. (337)

In Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer approvingly quotes the American Dietetic Association’s vegetarian position paper giving its stamp of approval to a vegetarian diet, and writes:

I don’t think that individual health is necessarily a reason to become vegetarian, but certainly if it were unhealthy to stop eating animals, that might be a reason not to be vegetarian. It would most certainly be a reason to feed my son animals. (145)

In Animal Liberation, Peter Singer writes:

Apart from the tastiness of their meals, people contemplating vegetarianism are most likely to worry about whether they will be adequately nourished. These worries are entirely groundless. … Nutritional experts no longer dispute about whether animal flesh is essential; they now agree that it is not. If ordinary people still have misgivings about doing without it, these misgivings are based on ignorance. (179 – 182)

And later in Practical Ethics, Singer persisted:

If animals count in their own right, our use of animals for food becomes questionable. Inuit living a traditional lifestyle in the far north where they must eat animals or starve can reasonably claim that their interest in surviving overrides that of the animals they kill. Most of us cannot defend our diet in this way. People living in industrialized societies can easily obtain an adequate diet without the use of animal flesh. Meat is not necessary for good health or longevity. Indeed, humans can live healthy lives without eating any animal products at all… (54)

In “Vegan Power: Anecdotes of Inspiration”, James McWilliams writes:

Perhaps inspired by Lierre Kieth’s The Vegetarian Myth, a book that chronicles the author’s losing battle with a plant-based diet, bloggers have clogged foodie networks with angst-ridden accounts of fatigue, sickness, hair loss, anxiety, diminished sex drive, and mental breakdown after quitting animal products. The problem with these accounts, as far as I can tell, is that those who made the vegan leap (and I praise them for doing it) did so without doing due diligence on the details of intelligent veganism. Someone can live on potato chips, pot, and cherry soda and call himself a vegan. Many recidivists have evidently tried to do just that.

Whether you are convinced by a book such as The China Study or not, there’s no disputing the fact that a diet rich in plant-based, unprocessed food is a smart diet. My point here isn’t to suggest that a diet including modest amounts of lean meat can’t be healthy. It surely can be. Instead, I want to reiterate the equally healthful consequences of a healthy vegan diet. I can brook a million excuses for why a person simply cannot go vegan — cheese! yogurt! cream in my coffee! — but the assertion that veganism, when done right, isn’t healthy is just plain bunk.

In Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog, Gary Francione writes:

It is in no way necessary for human beings to eat meat or other animal products. Indeed, voices as mainstream as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Dietetic Association have now recognized that a completely plant-based diet, supplemented by vitamin B-12, can provide the human body with sufficient protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to maintain excellent health. For health-related reasons, animal foods have been coming under greater suspicion within the mainstream scientific community. Even the most traditional health care professionals are urging a reduction in our consumption of meat and other animal products; others are calling for the elimination of such products from our diet. It is an uncontested fact that vegetarians have lower rates of many forms of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, gallstones and kidney stones, and other diseases. And we seem to hear on an almost daily basis of illnesses—ranging from simple food poisoning to more exotic maladies such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob (“mad cow” disease)—connected with eating meat. Countries that have shifted from plant-based diets to meat-based diets have experienced increased rates of obesity, heart diseases, and cancer. So not only are animal food unnecessary for our health; they may very well be detrimental to it. (14)

Finally, here’s Francione in an article called “Veganism: Morality, Health, and the Environment”:

We have a moral obligation that we owe to ourselves to be healthy; ingesting products that cause us harm is a form of violence we inflict on ourselves. The empirical evidence becomes stronger each day that animal products are not only not needed for health; they actually cause harm to our bodies in all sorts of ways. Even small amounts of animal products can be harmful. Just as we have a moral obligation not to smoke cigarettes (even a “few”), we have an obligation to make sure that the things we put in and on our bodies (remember that what you put on your skin gets into your body!) do not cause harm. We owe this obligation not only to ourselves, but to the humans and nonhumans who love us and who depend on us. … So, in the end, although I maintain that the moral argument in favor of animal rights and the spiritual argument in favor of nonviolence are the most important notions, we also have moral obligations to ourselves (and to the humans and nonhumans who depend on us) to maintain and improve our health.

Francione doesn’t provide a citation for his assertion that we have moral obligations to maintain and improve our health; but if he’s sticking to that, he’s committed himself to a strange position for someone who philosophizes for soy milk. Not only is meat immoral… so are vegan cupcakes! Even better, if it turned out that a diet with animal products was healthier than one without one, we wouldn’t only have the option to give up veganism: we’d be morally obligated to eat meat!

But of course Francione is convinced that animal products don’t need to be part of anyone’s healthy diet. So are Regan, Singer, Foer, McWilliams, Norris, Messina, Paleovegan and just about every other well-known advocate of veganism.

So what if they changed their minds on this issue and decided that humans, or a lot of them at least, were healthier when their diet included animal products? Apparently, they’d be fine with these humans eating meat. Even vegan leaders allow a health exception to veganism: it’s just that they see this exception as almost entirely theoretical. Notice that when ex-vegans quit veganism for health reasons, most vegans don’t say, “You should have sacrificed your health if you truly cared about animals.” Instead they say, “You did veganism wrong.”

The difference between many vegans and meat eaters, then, is empirical rather than philosophical. No one is saying that animals are worth making big sacrifices over. One side just thinks that veganism is a big sacrifice, and the other side thinks it isn’t.

Yeah, there are plenty of meat eaters who think that meat is unhealthy or unnecessary for health, and yet eat it anyway. And there are also some vegans who would stay vegan even if they started to suspect that it was causing them health difficulties. Those few martyrs aside, though, if vegans were a character in The Wire, they’d be Dante—not Brandon. Vegans are cool with giving up animal products when they think all they’re losing is some measure of habit, convenience, tradition and taste. But if their health starts to nosedive and they don’t think they can fix it without animal products, they’re suffocating salmon and chucking baby chicks into grinders in no time.

Hey, what about the fucking animals, guys? What’s a little brain fog and fatigue when we’re talking about animal lives?

Vegans rarely tire of citing The China Study’s case against animal products or the ADA’s claim that a vegan diet is appropriate for all stages of the lifecycle. But why should it matter whether or not veganism is healthy? It’s not like it would be worth killing hundreds of animals a year just to live longer or have a spring in your step, would it?

Harish at Counting Animals recently crunched some numbers and determined that going vegetarian “saves more than 406 animals each year—a vegetarian saves at least an animal a day!” And that’s just udder-sucking, chicken-period-thieving lacto-ovos. No doubt Harish would find that vegans “save” even more.

Granted, “saves” is a stretch in this context, since what vegans are actually doing is preventing animals from being born through their inaction, something vegans would have been much better at doing by never being born. As for the specific numbers, meat eaters clearly eat less than an animal a day if they’re mostly eating bigger ones like cows, pigs and lambs. Still, meat eating obviously creates a demand for killing animals, whether the motive is taste or health. And if it’s anything like 406 a year, per person—a number Harish says is conservative—that’s a lot of animals to kill just because you feel miserable without a daily dose of flesh to improve your mood. Sure, a lifetime with severe depression sucks, but could that justify taking an animal’s life every day?

For vegans, the answer to this seems to be “yes.”

If veganism were guaranteed to kill you within three months, almost no one would go vegan. If it merely shaved a minute off your life, this probably wouldn’t be much of a deterrent at all. But what if veganism tended to reduce human lifespans by 50 years? At first that seems like a big chunk of your own life to give up for any cause. But look at the trade-off: if you live to 100 instead of 50 because you ate meat every day instead of never, you’ve (arguably) killed at least 40,600 extra animals just to selfishly enjoy a bonus half century. Even if all those animals were killed only a year before the end of their average lifespans, which they almost certainly weren’t, this would imply that 50 years of your life is worth more than 40,600 years of the lives of other animals. Harsh, man. It’s not like it would be these animals’ fault if humans had a nutritional need for animal products.

Yet none of the major animal rights advocates is willing to say that everyone should go vegan even if it kills us.

In veganism, human health comes before the lives of other animals. Vegans just happen to think you don’t need animal products to be healthy. If they thought otherwise, most of them would eat animals… no matter how many animal lives it took to cure their brain fog.

--Tagged under: Vegan Leaders--

--Tagged under: Health--

--Tagged under: Ethics--

How to Make Animals Go Extinct: The Vegan Way

Veganism prohibits humans from exploiting and murdering animals in order to use their bodies as material goods, but there are still plenty of ways for humans to eliminate animals without a single amendment to the vegan constitution. Though most vegans wouldn’t want to do this, it would even be theoretically possible—problems of practicality aside—for a vegan humanity to get rid of almost every sentient animal on the planet other than humans without doing anything that veganism considers unethical.

Here are some of the weapons that vegans would have in their arsenal if for some reason they wanted to vanquish other animals and have the planet to themselves:

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--Tagged under: Ethics--

Vegans May Not Be Speciesist, But That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Discriminate

“Following the civil rights movement, veganism is the next step for moral progress in our society. I think the movement will follow the same historical trajectory as all previous rights movements - through denial and anger, but finally acceptance.”

Ruby Roth, author of That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals 

“It is racism when we choose to save one white person over two blacks. It is speciesism when we choose to save an orphaned an-encephalitic human infant whose existence is a secret over a chimpanzee.”

UrConfused

Some vegans like to think of veganism as the final frontier in ethical equality, the movement that could finally put an end to the discrimination and violence that humans have practiced since splitting into tribes. It’s a common enough view that sexism, ableism, racism, religious discrimination, classism and heterosexism have to go. All this leaves, say some vegans, is speciesism: and worldwide veganism would crush that.

But does it really?

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--Tagged under: Ethics--

--Tagged under: Featured Entries--

Do Animals Have Inherent Value? (abridged)

Angus Taylor’s Animals & Ethics: An Overview of the Philosophical Debate delivers on its title’s promise: it summarizes the philosophical debate over animals, often phrasing points more clearly than the philosophers did themselves. One of the key figures in this debate is Tom Regan, author of The Case for Animal Rights, and Taylor applauds him for his main contribution to the animal rights debate, “inherent value”:

The key concept in Regan’s philosophy is inherent value. Inherent value is a quality that Regan attributes to every creature that (to put it briefly for the moment) has a life that matters to it. To say that a being has inherent value is to say that it has a value that is independent of any use that it may have for others. Inherent value, then is to be contrasted with instrumental value. To have inherent value, in Regan’s view, is to have the fundamental right never to be treated merely as an instrument, or means, for others. …

The kind of autonomy that Regan says many animals possess is preference autonomy. To have preference autonomy, as he defines it, is to have preferences and the ability to initiate action with a view to satisfying them. In Regan’s view, preference autonomy is the key to having a life that matters to oneself, to being what he calls the subject-of-a-life. Those who are subjects-of-a-life are those who ‘have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; an emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference- and welfare-interests; the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independently of their being the object of anyone else’s interests (Regan 2004a, p.243). Regan believes that normal mammalian animals of at least a year in age meet this criterion and thus have inherent value and hence moral rights. Birds are probably subjects-of-a-life, and some other creatures may be too (Regan 2003). …

Now, asks Regan, what is it that accounts for our ascription of inherent value to someone, regardless of whether that individual is a genius or a moron, regardless of whether that individual is a morally responsible agent? What relevant similarity can we point to among individuals who have inherent value? Regan answers that what plausibly accounts for our ascription of inherent value to them is the fact that the individuals in question have lives that matter to them, that fare well or ill for them, independently of their usefulness for others…

Further, in Regan’s opinion, this inherent value that we ascribe to persons depends neither on the quality of their experiences nor on whether they are saints or sinners. All who have inherent value have it equally, he says, and it does not matter whether someone is Mother Teresa or an unscrupulous used-car salesperson. (67 – 70)

Taylor does a good job of summing it up, but I thought I’d better consult the original. At the beginning of Chapter 7 of The Case for Animal Rights, Regan unveils his core concept, using slightly more obscure terminology than Taylor:

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--Tagged under: Ethics--

--Tagged under: Vegan Leaders--

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